My history with the Harry Potter movies is an odd one as I find that few share similar feelings as I do. I don't consider myself a fan as I haven't read the books nor have I always liked each film installment. Allow me offer a history of my relationship with the franchise.
The Sorcerer's Stone, from director Chris Columbus (Home Alone), was not that enjoyable for me. Even at the young age of eleven, I wanted something more deeper and perhaps darker for this quite the unique and interesting world that Steve Kloves (based on the novels by J.K. Rowling) had written out. The Chamber of Secrets (from Columbus again) was an even bigger bit of a let down. Pretty much for the same reasons I didn't like the first film, the second just felt even more childish. Yes, I recognize that the characters are children and the stories mature as they do, but maybe I was just the kind of kid that people would consider an "old soul."
Alfonso Cuaron (And Your Mother Too) directed The Prisoner of Azkaban and I considered this film to be okay. The character of Harry matured, but I still wanted more out of the story. It just felt as simple as the previous films. The Goblet of Fire from Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) was then a step backwards for me. It just felt as immature as the first two. Mainly because at the end of the film we are finally introduced to the villain, Voldemort, and the sudden darkness towards the end just didn't feel in form with the rest of the film. Then, David Yates (The Girl in the Cafe) came along to direct The Order of the Phoenix. I considered this to be my favorite Potter film at the time. The series had suddenly become emotionally intense. Although Kloves was replaced by Michael Goldenberg for the fifth film, he would return to work with Yates on The Half Blood-Prince, The Deathly Hallows Part I, and this film.
Perhaps it was because when the film series began, Rowling had yet to finish her book series so the early films didn't have as clear a sense of direction as I feel that the later ones have, but enough about that. Let me focus on how damn good of a movie the apocalypctic The Deathly Hallows Part II is. The direction by Yates and the writing by Kloves seem to convey to me such a fondness for the characters, but there is more to it than fondness. The storytelling shown in the films under Yates' direction (and in Cuaron's installment), show a wish to truly understand these young adults. The eighth film begins where the seventh left off as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) struggle to find the remaining magical items that will allow Harry to defeat Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) before he destroys the Hogwarts school and ushers the world into an age of darkness.
There is a very powerful message behind this film that is best exemplified in the scene where Harry is in a train station with the spiritual form of Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). Dumbledore says something along the lines of "just because it is in your head, doesn't make it any less real."
This story is about magic, but it has such profound human thoughts, feelings, and emotions behind it. After all, it's the love that these characters share for each other that gets them through such harsh times. The love that Harry's parents had for him, the love between the three friends, and even the love that can be found in Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), one of the more darker characters in the series (I won't say more on that, but there is a phenomenal montage that explains his motivations as far back as events from the first film). In some ways, it is not a wand, but love that will defeat Voldemort. Keep in mind, this is what I took away from the film. I'm sure there are multiple interpretations that one might think or feel.
These actors have such a great understanding of their characters and with Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson all poised to continue working in the film industry- it is just so great to see where these three vastly talented individuals have come from and where they will hopefully go. Yet the true genius behind these films that I always enjoyed was the casting of these brilliant older actors- Helena Bonham Carter, Jim Broadbent, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Ciaran Hinds, John Hurt, Jason Isaacs, Kelly Macdonald, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, and many more over the years. They also understand their characters to the point that they sometimes steal scenes from the stars of the movie (I should add that Radcliffe, Watson, and Fiennes are particularly in top form in this one).
The Potter films are also technically proficient in every way. The pacing that is achieved through the editing, the emotions elicited from the cinematography and lighting, and the genius of the music by Alexandre Desplat (working off themes composed by the great John Williams)- it all helps make this ending to a decade-long film franchise feel pitch-perfect.
If I were to make a final comment on what the series has demonstrated as a whole- it's that there is a lot more to growing up than just taking on responsibility or losing one's innocence. There is a whole beauty to our personal "worlds" (or any "world" for that matter) that can only be realized with time... and love.
Note: If anyone is curious, these are my rankings for the Potter films...
1. The Deathly Hallows Part II (2011, David Yates)- 8
2. The Order of the Phoenix (2007, David Yates)- 5
3. The Deathly Hallows Part I (2010, David Yates)- 7
4. The Half-Blood Prince (2009, David Yates)- 6
5. The Prisoner of Azkaban (2004, Alfonso Cuaron)- 3
6. The Goblet of Fire (2005, Mike Newell)- 4
7. The Sorcerer's Stone (2001, Chris Columbus)- 1
8. The Chamber of Secrets (2002, Chris Columbus)- 2